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Jonathan Reece, our Baby Miracle, is due in a little over six weeks. For the first time since 2009, singing Christmas carols in church does not cause deep pain with every mention of mothers and babies. For the first time since 2009, I am getting the one thing I want for Christmas (though I hope he stays put until afterward). It is a season for rejoicing and anticipating and getting my rib cage kicked, and even though it wears me out, I am grateful to be on the other side of the intense longing and depression that has characterized the past four years.

We’re also wrapping up childbirth classes, which have been a mixed experience for me. Our instructors have been very informative and provide balanced information on unmedicated and medicated birth options offered by our hospital (and they back this up with personal experience, having delivered their own children there). Our workbook is a little more, um, less so. It gives detailed risks to mother and baby for any sort of medical intervention associated with labor and birth, neglecting to mention that many of these interventions have saved lives. Natural birth, according to them, has no risks. (First world perspective if I ever heard it.) They’re big on the “Your body was made to do this” idea.

I have no patience for that line of thinking. Maybe I could have bought it before we boarded the plane to Europe in 2010. But if my body was designed to incubate and birth my babies, why did my body create such an inhospitable environment for that long-ago first-conceived baby? There is a huge chance that baby couldn’t properly implant because of uterine blood clots and my body’s inability to process standard folic acid. But that was determined by blood tests. On the outside, I was the healthiest I’d ever been in my adult life. I’d recently lost about 20 pounds while Mike lost nearly 100, I was eating great and exercising regularly, I had no endo symptoms, and I was hopeful for our future family. So if my body just needed excellent care to be in top baby-making shape, I had it in spades.

In the years that followed, my body couldn’t seem to do anything right. Endo, ovarian cysts, and other reproductive system issues big and small wrecked havoc on my physical and emotional health. Medicine, dietary changes, surgery, fertility treatments all did nothing long-term. My body seemed made for nothing but malfunctioning after I’d worked so hard to get it in tip-top shape. I wasn’t noticeably better off when I discovered I was expecting Jonathan, which is why we called him Miracle from day one. We did nothing to prepare my body, other than taking the baby aspirin and folate pills along with standard prenatals “just in case.” God decided, for reasons still unknown to us, that this would be the Christmas we would sing, “For unto us a son is given” in a whole new way.

So forgive me if I don’t have much confidence in my body’s ability to finish the job. Forgive me if it has caused a little anxiety as I contemplate this monumental task ahead of me. Forgive me if I laugh or roll my eyes a bit every time I see or hear the words “birth plan.” Not one piece of this journey has gone according to plan so far–not plan A, plan B, plan C or on down. If I have to have a fully-asleep emergency C-section because my uterus ruptures during labor, I will not be surprised. I will be grateful the ability exists in my time and place to keep Jonathan and me alive in such situations, but I will not be surprised. I will not mourn the loss of my “birth plan” or how my body has failed me by not being up to the task I was told it would be.

My heart was made to grow even more than the Grinch’s when I finally get to meet my son. That is all I know and all I expect. I hope for a smooth labor and delivery (complete with epidural) and time to adequately heal and rest in the weeks that follow, but if that doesn’t happen, well, it wouldn’t be the first time something went berserk in this journey. None of it could change my love for my son, in whom I am already well pleased.

One of our first major upgrades to our house, all the way back in August 2008, was to replace the aging oil-converted-to-natural-gas furnace that was only about 60-70 percent efficient with an Energy Star-rated natural gas furnace. It cost a ton and took a whole day to install (thankfully we followed our home inspector’s advice and replaced it in the summer). But for all the money and time we spent, we didn’t have anything to really show for it except lower energy bills. As my aunt put it, who gets excited to have friends over to show off their new furnace?

The same was true for a lot of things this year. In early spring we had sewage backup that led to a plumbing overhaul (wait, that doesn’t happen in every house?), complete with the comical touch of discovering some of the pipes under our house were one size held to more pipes of another size by lots of tape. Then, on Halloween, our sump pump died and we discovered it had never been hooked up properly. It allowed so much water to flood our crawl space that it spilled over into the garage and also killed our furnace motor. No heat for a week just as the temperature dropped, and we spent a few days with a make-shift sump pump system that included our garden hose running water from the pump out the crawl space, through the garage, and out the garage window to the ditch in front of our house.

But aside from the absence of the temporary ridiculousness, all we really have to show for that one is a giant credit card bill. And the invisible hope that such a thing will never happen again.

Then there are the fun projects. Or at least the projects that are fun when they’re complete. These are the show-off-able projects, the ones that delight your own eyes every day because you remember what came before. In the case of our kitchen, we’ve upgraded both style and substance over the past year. And just in time–no way was I welcoming my first child into a construction zone.

kitchen remodel

We’d gotten much more used to our granite tile counters that were installed over the summer by the time the backsplash was put in. We had a hard time choosing a design for the backsplash, and until we installed it, I wasn’t sure the blue tiles would look okay with the brown and gray swirl of the countertop. I just knew in the often-dreary Pacific Northwest, I needed a touch of color. I think it worked out rather well:

backsplash over stoveThis is the only part of the kitchen where the backsplash uses all three “tiers” of tile. If you look really close, you can see the blue glass tile is just a smidge too short to fit under the cabinets, so James, our house’s fairy godfather, had to cut each strip by half an inch. After slicing nearly every piece of granite, though, he said glass was a piece of cake.

We also got rid of one remaining bit of weird after all the tiling was complete. Between our cabinets and the back door of our house is a small strip of wall that was paneled with bead board up to about the height of the countertop. It’s the only such panel in the whole house, and we naively figured it was left over from when the kitchen had a different cabinet configuration. After the number of walls we’ve opened, we really should have known better:

kitchen heaterThat black box is what’s left of a heater. Yes, a heater. When the previous owners built an addition onto the back of the house, they apparently “solved” the problem of the heat ducts not being able to reach that far by putting heaters into the walls. Which isn’t so bad, but then they thought covering it up with a cabinet and bead board was okay? No way were we pulling out the cabinet after we had just tiled the counter and backsplash, so James took pliers and literally ripped as much out of the wall as he could before patching the hole with drywall and adding an outlet. In terms of hacks, ours is at least a notch above theirs.

repaired kitchen wall

We then had him do the same thing to the (visible) heater in our bedroom wall, which we had always been afraid to touch ourselves. Turned out that unlike several things in our house, neither heater contained live wires. They were simple fixes, somewhere in between the realms of seen and unseen home improvement. But as James is moving to the far reaches of our county and limiting his side work and we are burned out, broke, and getting ready for Jonathan, the kitchen feels like our last project for awhile unless something breaks. We’re grateful to have found James and other quality contractors, grateful for the education our home has provided, and grateful for cheap, quality materials on Craigslist. But we are even more grateful to just be done. To let our hard work pay off and let our house transition from a project to a fuller nest.

Still in Crisis Mode

I continue to be amazed that our darling Jonathan is developing exactly as he should, and that my pregnancy hasn’t had any real complications. Given my reproductive system’s love of complications, this is not how I thought things would play out. But it doesn’t take much to fall back into crisis mode thinking. All the women I’ve known who’ve been pregnant after a miscarriage admit to the same thing. It’s as if worst case scenario feels more plausible than best case, because in my case, worst case in this area is all I’ve known.

So when any little symptom shows up that could be indicative of a larger problem, it’s easier for me to imagine that larger problem playing out than to agree with the on-call doctors that it’s probably nothing. This tendency is definitely exaggerated when I’m awake earlier than normal and away from home.

In mid-October, my father-in-law turned 80. We went to South Carolina to be able to attend his birthday party, and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law used my being in town anyway as an excuse to throw a shower with some neighbors and friends from their church. It was a big weekend for the whole family, and since my in-laws aren’t in the best of health right now, Mike and I tried to do as much to help with the party set-ups as possible. I noticed trace amounts of vaginal spotting on Sunday morning, pink in color, which made me nervous but which I attributed to doing more than I probably should have.

If that were the case, that it was from over-exertion, then it should have lessened as I slept that night. Instead, when I woke up around 5 a.m. to use the bathroom, it had gotten a little heavier and darker. I wanted to scream.

That’s how some women’s miscarriages start off, with spotting that gradually gets heavier. Mine was more of an all-at-once deal, and I knew I was far past that stage of pregnancy by then anyway. But there’s really nothing good about vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, especially when you’re set to fly across the country later that day. It was the thought of dealing with something like a detached placenta in Minneapolis, where we were scheduled to change planes but know absolutely no one, that eventually got Mike and me out the door of his parents’ house and to the nearest emergency room. If we were going to have an emergency, better to have it with family than on our own.

As far as ER experiences go, this was decidedly the best we’ve had. Maybe it was because they transferred me to the maternity section when they learned I was pregnant, but it was also one of the few times no one dismissed my worries or told me flat-out wrong information. The nurse, midwife, and ob/gyn who saw me throughout the couple of hours we were there were all friendly and helpful, concerned without being alarmist. They didn’t try to tell me what was usually wrong with others in this situation, but instead immediately monitored Jonathan’s heartbeat (strong), had me give a sample to check for UTI, and then took a look at the source of the problem.

Didn’t take more than a few seconds to for the midwife to determine I had a small polyp on my cervix that was the bleeding culprit. Just a polyp, like I had this past winter that gave me extra spotting between periods. Nothing that would affect Jonathan if we just left it alone.

So simple. Not a crisis, yet it was all too easy for me to think it was.

I had an ultrasound at the next day at my regular doctor’s office, just to make sure the placenta was still in place. As soon as the tech assured me it was, I began to relax for what I realized was the first time in an ultrasound room during this pregnancy, and maybe ever. Instead of checking off limbs and vital organs from my mental list like I did during my twenty-week “anatomy scan,” I got to enjoy an unexpected glimpse of my son. My mama-heart nearly melted on the spot when she zoomed in on his face and saw his right eye blinking and glancing around, probably trying to figure out what all these strange noises were.

27 weeks - 1

It was like a treat for surviving the crisis-that-wasn’t. And it closed even more of the gap for me between guarding my heart from potential disaster to loving him as much as I want to.

The Last Hurrah

The last week of September, Mike and I accomplished another major milestone in our long journey to parenthood–we had our honest-to-goodness last hurrah.

This is the fourth big trip we’ve taken in hopes that it will be the last such trip before we become a family of three. Our first, which kicked off this crazy journey, was to Holland, Belgium, and France in September 2010. The second was the following summer, when we road-tripped to Glacier National Park and still had hopes of conceiving again after my endo diagnosis. The third was in August 2013, when we cruised to Alaska with Mike’s parents while waiting for on the adoption process to stop spinning us in circles and actually go somewhere.

The day we found out our Baby Miracle was on his way, we decided to spend our eighth wedding anniversary hurrah-ing in Hawaii. Provided, of course, that Baby Miracle was doing well by that point. And provided I’d finally stopped throwing up. Both of which, thankfully, happened.

The day I hit twenty-four weeks, we boarded a plane for Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, which would be our home base for the next week.

Neither of us had ever been to any of the Hawaiian islands. Where we grew up in the Midwest and the Southeast, that’s not so unusual. After all, you can fly to Europe more quickly and cheaply than Hawaii from either of our hometown airports. But in greater Seattle, going to Hawaii is almost expected. I can’t tell you the number of preschoolers at my church who have been more than once on an ordinary family vacation. Since it was not much further and actually cheaper than going to visit either of our families, and it would be someplace where we could relax “for the last time in our lives” (to quote my sister-in-law, who is a mom of three), we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of this era of our marriage.

It was hot, like hotter than normal, which wasn’t always comfortable for a fair-skinned expectant mama. And I came down with the second sinus infection of my pregnancy, resulting in a trip to urgent care on our actual anniversary. And someday I’ll learn that sleeping right next to the ocean is nicer in theory than in practice for someone who likes silence when going to sleep. In other words, it wasn’t perfect.

But it was pretty darn awesome:

IMG_1570 IMG_1585 IMG_1590 IMG_1605 WP_20140930_010 WP_20140927_011 IMG_1630Corny as it may sound, though, the best part was a week of uninterrupted time with the man I love. The focused attention we were able to give each other won’t come again for a long, long time, but I’m glad it came then. Here’s to eight loving years, and at least fifty more.

Falling-Down Tired

Friends, family, my doctor, and many corners of the internet led me to believe that feeling exhausted during pregnancy happened in the first trimester (as hormones ramp up and baby changes most dramatically) and in the third trimester (as you try to accommodate significant weight gain). The second is accompanied by a burst of energy in which, supposedly, you feel much more like your pre-pregnancy self. After four months of nausea and laying on the couch out of shear exhaustion, I was really looking forward to this.

Except with my second trimester also came another round of sinus infection, two trips with long flights, and a host of fall chores that have left me nearly as tired as I was over the summer. I can do more, but I am no less tired at the end of the day.

I hate feeling so tired, especially when it means Mike has more to do to pick up the slack. He has lots to do around the house in the fall anyway, because my pelvis has prohibited me from mowing the yard for a few years now and fall in the Pacific Northwest is a complicated dance of waiting for the yard to dry out so it can be mowed, only to discover it’s grown exponentially since the last dry day because of all the rain, so it still looks ragged by the time the rain sets in again (it’s much the same in April, but with a little more daylight on our side). And then there is our beloved apple tree, which ripened early this year from our record-hot summer and so required our attention starting in early September. We made apple butter, applesauce, and desserts for church meetings like our lives depended on it, filling our freezer and gifting many jars to friends and co-workers.

But standing for an hour chopping a paper grocery bag full of apples after working with toddlers in the morning and trying to clean up the house in the afternoon left me hardly able to keep my eyes open. At 8:00 p.m.

Maybe I would have an easier time cutting myself some slack if pregnancy hadn’t been preceded by three years of never knowing if I would feel good or not. Endometriosis should be a predictable disease since it’s affected by the same hormones that dictate the menstrual cycle, but there were days just after my period ended when I would be in as much pain as a day or two before my next period started. I had so many days where my to-do list was such a joke that I stopped writing to-do lists just to avoid the guilt of leaving the entire thing uncompleted. Of course, infertility and adoption-related depression made it all the harder to try again the next day, to give myself grace, to ask for help even from my husband.

So in that sense, pregnancy doesn’t feel a whole lot different from the condition that prevented me from getting pregnant for so long. Except that medical literature and personal testimonies abound with how pregnancy “cures” endometriosis by allowing you to go a year or more without a cycle. Silly me, I thought that meant it might give me my energy back too. I thought it might allow me to feel like a fully-functioning member of society again.

No such luck.

But the travels are over until I have a ticket that will read “infant in arms.” The apple tree is stripped bare for another year. And I am trying to learn now, before I am falling-down tired from my newborn screaming all night, to allow myself to admit my limits. To rejoice in what I can do and not worry so much about what I can’t. It is hard, sometimes impossible, but I want to try to give myself more grace to rest when I am tired.

What’s in a Name?

Mike named our first-born daughter approximately on our three-month wedding anniversary.

We were in the car with his parents, driving from his great-aunt’s house in southern Alabama, where we’d spent Christmas 2006, to another aunt and uncle’s condo in the Florida panhandle. I was faithfully taking my birth control pills (back when I could semi-tolerate them, before endo took over my body) and working hard at my master’s program, determined to give myself time to adjust to being a wife, writer, and full-fledged adult before adding mom into the mix. In other words, we weren’t trying to name our children this early on.

But my engineer husband, with his love of puns and word play, realized that our mothers’ names, Carol and Evelyn, nicely fit together to make Carolyn. It may have been dated and a little cumbersome, but I couldn’t argue with the sentiment. It just made sense, and somewhere in the past seven-plus years, it has grown on me. Every potential daughter we have had these past four years (and there have been plenty) has made me wonder if she was to be Carolyn. Carolyn Danielle, to be precise, because we would never have survived this journey without the loving care our dear pastor Danna provided. (But Carolyn Danna, all three of us agree, sounds silly. So Danielle it is. Close enough.)

But of course, our sweet Baby Miracle is a boy. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed when we first learned this. I may have cried big, ugly tears for a few hours the afternoon our blood test results came back. There were many reasons I wanted our first to be a girl, but one of the more superficial ones was that I was more attached to our girl’s name than our boy’s name. I wanted to honor our daughter’s grandmothers–all three of them–but now they would have to wait, and possibly never get the chance. Who but God has any idea when, or if, lightning will strike this house again, and if it will be pink?

Our son, the one whose flutter kicks I’m finally starting to feel through the anterior placenta as I approach 24 weeks, is already being introduced to the world as Jonathan Reece. That name doesn’t go back quite as far into the annals of our marriage, but it was far from a recent choice. Unlike Carolyn, we chose Jonathan because of its meaning, “God has given.” Because really, God giving us a child is a pretty monumental event. And David may be called the “man after God’s own heart” in the Bible, but his best friend, Jonathan, sets aside his title of crown prince to support David because he believes him to be the rightful king of Israel in the eyes of God. Putting the will of God ahead of your own glory–if my son can do that, I will be one proud mama.

And we still get to honor family. Reece is my father-in-law’s middle name, and his mother’s maiden name. He is a worthy man to name our Miracle after, but he also won’t have many good years with this little guy. His health is precarious and he’s turning 80 in a few weeks, so honoring him in this way feels like a now-or-never prospect.

God has given us a son who is growing with textbook precision, and we will give him a name that will always let him know what a Miracle he is.

First Day of School

A miscarriage is a natural and common event. All told, probably more women have lost a child from this world than haven’t. Most don’t mention it, and they go on from day to day as if it hadn’t happened, so people imagine a woman in this situation never really knew or loved what she had. But ask her sometime: how old would your child be now? And she’ll know.
    Barbara Kingsolver – Animal Dreams (1990)

My Facebook feed for the past few weeks has been full of first day of school pictures. They aren’t so different from the ones my mom took each and every year–usually in front of the front door or, if the student is over sixteen, in front of their beat-up old car they love to death. I love seeing these pictures, and I hate seeing these pictures.

Because this week, I should be posting a picture of my own.

The baby we lost would have turned three this past May and so would have been entering preschool for the first time, most likely at our church. My dear boss, Lisa, would likely be his/her first teacher. As I’ve said before, there is irony that we wouldn’t be nearly as close as we are now if I hadn’t spent the past three years as her Sunday School assistant, and I wouldn’t have done so if this baby had lived, but even so. I’d still likely entrust her with his/her earliest memories of school.

Sometimes I grieve this baby as the person s/he was becoming before their development was cut so short. But sometimes, like now, this loss serves more as a reminder of how long our road has been. Our eternal six-week pregnancy would be going to preschool? They would be halfway through their first year of preschool before our Miracle is even born? Surely it hasn’t been that long!

But the baby one friend was nursing when I went to the hospital bleeding and cramping four years ago this month is starting his second year of preschool. (I know. I saw the picture.) All the kids I pictured being babies and then toddlers and then starting preschool with my firstborn are heading off to school already. Time has been somewhat suspended for us, but it has marched forward with a vengeance for everyone else.

My heart broke the day we lost that baby in a way it has never broken before. It was the day before our fourth wedding anniversary. In three weeks, we’ll celebrate our eighth on a beach in Hawaii. That’s another startling way to look at the passage of time–half our marriage has been spent trying to be parents.

In another four years, I hope to have a picture I can label “Jonathan’s First Day of Preschool, Sept. 2018.” I hope even harder that he has a younger sibling (or two) who try to photobomb it and then spend the morning missing him along with me. But I suspect I will still, in some deep recess of my heart, know that there was an older sibling too, one who should have a picture labeled “First Day of Second Grade.”

And so it will always go. At least, I hope so.